STAPLES-When it comes to home renovation, the more helping hands, the better.
A project set to benefit the Staples Veterans Park garnered a community effort to spruce up a 1957 rambler, the sale of which will pay for updates to monuments honoring military service.
"The community has really supported the vets park from the get-go," said Bob Hamann, president of the Staples All Veterans and Community Park Association. "They've really been good to us. If you dream big, you need big money to do those things."
In July 2016, board members learned of a home on the site of the future Timberlake Hotel in Staples. Property owners Mike and Mary Ives would need to either move or tear down the home to proceed with their plans, and board member Penny Nelsen said this presented an interesting opportunity for park supporters. Navy veteran Maj. Jack Wilson offered to donate a piece of land on Airport Road in Staples to serve as the new home for the house. Nelsen said it was a rush to determine whether undertaking a moving and renovation project would be a lucrative fundraising effort.
"In that window of time, we basically had a week to contact people to find out how much this was going to cost," Nelsen said. "With a renovation project, a lot of times you're building up. But this was like building down, fastening the house to a foundation."
Once the group obtained solid cost figures, the next step was finding the funds to pay for it up front.
"We didn't have enough money in our account," Nelsen said. "About 10 people loaned us money, and we'll return their money with no interest."
From that point forward, one business and volunteer after another stepped up to make the fundraising project a reality-all to benefit a park in its first decade of existence.
The park evolved from an idea to fly a huge American flag in Staples, which Hamann pursued as a member of the Rotary Club of Staples.
"I always admired Perkins' flags that they had," Hamann said, referring to those typically found at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery locations. "I did email the Perkins corporation to see how big their flagpoles were, and how big their flags were."
Hamann said he learned the average flagpole height used by the restaurant chain is 70 feet, so the Rotary Club raised the funds to purchase an 80-foot pole. The flag measures 20-by-30-feet and is difficult to miss when driving into Staples on Highway 10.
"That was kind of the start of it," Hamann said. "Our board said, well, let's make a veterans park."
The group searched for a location to fly the flag, and when the Minnesota Department of Transportation began the reconstruction project on Highway 10, the agency donated a piece of right-of-way property to the city of Staples to be used for a veterans park.
Since its beginnings, the park now includes the flags of each military branch, a series of benches honoring veteran family members of donors and bricks bearing the names of soldiers present and past. An eagle statue sculpted by metal artist Jeff Kreitz of Breezy Point stands guard near what's become an unofficial pit stop for highway travelers.
"Part of our mission is to honor the veterans that have served in our area," said Kevin Jenkins, board secretary. "That's kind of what it's all about, everything we do goes to that. We also educate, and especially the younger people who are losing track or never did know how we got to where we are as a country. We need to honor these veterans that got us there as a free country."
The board has big plans for the park's future-including an interpretive center displaying military artifacts and playing audio and video recordings of veteran's stories. The purpose of the renovation project, however, is to improve some of the current monuments.
"We have goals of getting granite on the retaining wall that's there, and maybe doing some block work or brick work on there, and then we have granite that's needed on our sign where the eagle is," said Ken Klose, board member.
To arrive at the $35,000 payday selling the home represented took nearly a year and construction work from a multitude of local contractors and skilled volunteers. To move the home to its new location was the first of many challenges, requiring a four-season porch to be cut from the rest of the structure and moved separately. Navigating the codes and ordinances of various public entities proved to be the mental accompaniment to the physical feats-particularly given the home was transported across the Todd-Wadena county line.
Nelsen said the group was grateful for the support it received throughout the renovation from more than 20 individuals and businesses-ranging from donated black walnut flooring worth nearly $4,000 to a donated forced air furnace representing $3,000 in savings. Board members spent hours of their own time as well, particularly board member Melvin Daniels, who Nelsen described as the "mechanical person" of the group leading much of the renovation work.
Built for the well-known Batcher family of Staples, the 60-year-old home was in great condition and worth saving, board members agreed. Would they do it again? Maybe, said Daniels-but probably not one they'd have to relocate.
Gathered at the home June 22 for the closing, board members joked they might have made more if they'd all signed up to be greeters at Walmart over the course of the year. But the fellowship of working together on the project and the satisfaction experienced when the home was completed appeared to override this mathematical truth.
"We'd have people come and bring doughnuts and rolls," Nelsen said. "We had meals here, because I've learned over time if you have food, people show up. We had a little table in the living room and we'd sit and have coffee and watch the planes come in."
Now, the pastor of the Staples United Methodist Church will enjoy that view, which boasts a western exposure to a wide-open runway often lit by the setting sun. The home became the parsonage of the church following last week's final walk-through.
How to support the Staples Veterans Park
Visit www.staplesmnveteranspark.org for information on how to donate to planned improvements to the Staples Veterans Park.
Park to host Fourth of July event
A celebration to dedicate 12 veterans pavers will take place 10 a.m. Tuesday at Staples Veterans Park, 820 Highway 10.
Guest speaker is retired Maj. Jack Wilson, a former pilot in the U.S. Air Force serving 1951-71. Wilson volunteered for the Vietnam War in 1963 and served a tour there.
The public is invited to bring a lawn chair to enjoy the program.